Review: More Than Friends

THE SHORT VERDICT:

With its slow-burn approach to storytelling and its muted, understated sort of vibe, this show is definitely not for everyone.

When Show is at its best, it’s thought-provoking and introspective as it explores people and relationships. When Show is not as its best, it can feel frustrating, and its characters, unlikable and unsympathetic. And because Show is mostly a slow burn, Show is at its best mostly in its later episodes, rather than its earlier ones. Our main characters did grow on me by the end of my watch, but I have to admit that it was our secondary characters that actually grabbed me more, and earlier too.

A little tedious at times, but not without its bright spots.

THE LONG VERDICT:

This is a rare occasion when I opted to check out a show, even though I’d heard very little about it in the way of reactions in general, and the few reactions I’d seen, were mostly negative.

Why would I do such a thing, you ask?

Well, it’s all Ong Seong Wu’s fault. I’d been so impressed with him in 2019’s At Eighteen (and it’s a lovely, grounded little gem of a show, so if you haven’t seen it, do check it out!), that I was just that curious to see what else he’s capable of. You guys know I rarely ever watch a “blah” show for an actor, so this says A Lot, about how excellent Ong Seong Wu is, in At Eighteen.

So, is More Than Friends really as “blah” as people say it is?

I’d say.. kind of, but not really? It’s definitely not for everyone, and I can see why people mostly didn’t care for this one. At the same time, I do think that with patience and the right lens(es), this one really isn’t as bad as everyone says it is.

OST ALBUM: FOR YOUR LISTENING PLEASURE

Here’s the OST album, in case you’d like to listen to it while you read the review.

I found the OST very pleasant as a general rule, and I’d say that the music did a fair bit of heavy lifting, in terms of helping me enjoy my watch more. That said, I can’t say that any single track actually grabbed me more than the others; everything was quite uniformly pleasant, to my ears.

MANAGING EXPECTATIONS & THE VIEWING LENS

This is one of those times when I found myself have to work harder than average, trying to find a suitable viewing lens, that would help make my watch of this show as pleasant as possible.

Here are a few important things to know, going into this one:

1. It’s a slow burn.

Things take quite a while to gain momentum, and Show’s later episodes are actually more interesting (to me, anyway) than Show’s earlier episodes.

2. A retro Hallyu lens is helpful, sometimes. 

At the episode 5 mark, it occurred to me that there’s something about this show that vibes very similar to a classic Hallyu drama. We have the inaccessible male lead; the seemingly perfect second lead; a dreamy idealistic female lead; the love triangle where both men are wrestling for her attention.

For the record, I don’t dislike this quality about Show. There’s something nostalgic and simple about it that appeals to me. There’s no fantasy twist, and there’s no serial killer, and the plot points aren’t anything fancy. It’s unabashedly all about the feelings and relationships – and there’s something pleasantly old school about that.

3. Seeing this as a personal journey of redemption, rather than a love story, helps.

Our characters are very flawed, and therefore, some of the things they say and do to each other can be frustrating to watch. However, I found that looking at this as a journey of growth and redemption, particularly for male lead Soo (Ong Seong Wu) makes everything land a lot better.

4. Show’s not into big developments, and so our narrative milestones feel relatively small.

I admit that sometimes I felt frustrated because I felt like Show was withholding the strong developments that I was hoping for, and stringing me along while dropping only enough scraps to keep me hopeful. On hindsight, I realize that Show was never about big developments anyhow. I think knowing that going in, helps a lot.

5. Show’s at its strongest when it’s being thoughtful

We get a lot more thoughtful introspection in Show’s later episodes, and I personally felt like these were some of Show’s strongest episodes. This led me to conclude that this show works better when it’s being an introspective melodrama, than when it’s trying to be an edgy dramedy.

STUFF THAT WORKED OUT TO OK

I’m starting with the ok stuff because that’s where the main players in our story happen to land, for me. There were times when I liked them less, and times when I liked them more, and this all evened out to pretty alright, in the end.

There are things that I genuinely enjoyed in this show, which I’ll talk about later.

Ong Seong Wu as Soo

I’d say one of Show’s biggest problems – at least for me as a viewer – is how opaque Soo is played as a character, especially in Show’s earlier stretch.

From the beginning of our story, Soo is presented as a pretty aloof, flippant sort of character, and we don’t get many hints at what goes on underneath his standoffish sort of surface. This isn’t for lack of ability on Ong Seong Wu’s part, since I’ve seen him display a lot more nuance in At Eighteen, so I can only conclude that this was a directorial choice. I think that this choice may have cost Show a good chunk of viewers, because there isn’t enough evidence in Show’s early stretch, to convince us that there’s a whole range of other, more sympathetic emotions underneath that prickly surface.

For the patient among us, we do eventually get to see Soo show more distinct glimpses of wistfulness, dismay and vulnerability, and I do think that these are nicely done. I personally came to really enjoy Soo’s journey of growth and redemption, and it was one of the key things that kept my interest, especially in Show’s second half.

[SPOILER ALERT]

E1. We get hints that Soo’s life isn’t as picture perfect as it seems, with his parents divorced, and him clearly having some struggles around how his parents now seem nicer to each other after their divorce. I rationalize that this is probably a big factor in how he appears so flippant and closed-off, but I don’t find him likable at all right now, and I think I’ll need more convincing.

E2. I get that Soo is scarred from his parents’ divorce, and I feel sympathetic that he still suffers from nightmares, but I am not liking his aloof and distant facade. He does come off as a self-centered jerk, so far, although I admit it is somewhat softened by the nicer things that he does for Woo Yeon.

So far, it seems that he does care about her, but not as much as he cares about himself. Also, it seems to me that his reason for creating this hard shell to protect himself, while keeping people at arm’s length, is kind of underwhelming? I’m assuming that this is all because he’s been emotionally scarred from his parents’ divorce, but lots of people have divorced parents and don’t do what he does. On the other hand, I could interpret this to mean that he’s just that sensitive of a soul, beneath that hard shell.

E4. We do get some insight into Soo’s avoidance of serious relationships, when he tells Woo Yeon that he’s too lazy and fearful to commit; that he’s not confident that he won’t change, or that he’d be with the other person to the end. This definitely links back to his trauma from his parents’ divorce; he’d rather avoid the possibility of more trauma and heartbreak, and not love at all.

E6. Even though I do think that Soo’s trauma related to his parents’ divorce is rather exaggerated, I appreciate that he won’t apologize for it. His point, that he makes to his parents this episode, is valid – even if he is understanding of everything that they went through and why they chose to get divorced, it doesn’t change the negative effects that it’s had on him.

I don’t yet find Soo properly endearing, but there’s something appealing about how unashamed he is, of himself. Also, I like the way Ong Seong Wu delivers the scene. This is possibly the most overtly vulnerable we’ve seen him, so far. There’s a tentativeness in his gaze, and a plaintive tinge to his tightly controlled anger. In this moment, I find Soo more accessible than most of the other times we’ve seen him. I’d like to feel this way more.

E6. It does seem like Soo is maturing, bit by bit. In his final voiceover about countless intersecting lives and incidents, I’d thought that he’d name one of the many different scenarios he’d mentioned, as the thing that should have changed. But he doesn’t. He says that the thing that should have changed, is how he realized his feelings too late. That’s taking responsibility instead of pushing blame, and I respect that.

E7. As we see Soo get used to his new feelings, and his new position as the crusher, on an oblivious crushee, I find myself softening towards him in slow degrees. I have to admit that it’s a bit of a slow burn there too, because he still displays prickly behavior from time to time. I didn’t like it when he lashed out at Sang Hyeok (P.O) to just leave him alone, because poor ol’ Sang Hyeok was just trying to show concern as a friend. But I rationalize that Soo was very upset, and also, quite drunk, and therefore should be given a bit of leeway. At other times, his old barbed way of talking to Woo Yeon (Shin Ye Eun) comes back, when he’s annoyed by her new relationship with Joon Soo (Kim Dong Joon).

BUT. On the upside, he really is starting to be nicer to her. His tone is softer, he’s more considerate, and he’s also more thoughtful and hyperaware. Granted, I would have liked to have seen these things from Soo without needing his feelings for Woo Yeon to be a catalyst, since this makes it feel like he’s only nicer because he now likes her, but I guess I’m a bit of a sucker for character growth, because I see this as progress.

I also think it works because Show has managed to show us that Soo isn’t actually a bad person. He does have selfish tendencies, but he also has good traits, which have mostly stayed hidden because of the reflexively self-centered phrasing of his words. This turnaround allows us to see more of his softer side, and this softer side is doing its job in endearing him to me, at least a little bit. There are now glimpses of earnestness and wistfulness, and some dorky awkwardness about Soo, and I rather like it.

E9. The thing that grabbed me, that held me back from dropping this show at episode 9, is the idea of regret. Most of us know what it’s like to realize only too late, that we’ve been stupid; blind; an idiot, that’s behaved badly, and it’s now too late to do anything about it. Lives have been changed and relationships have been ruined because of our stupid actions – or lack of action. I’ve certainly felt that way before, and the weight of regret is huge. It feels suffocating and onerous, and it can literally hurt to breathe; you’re just so weighed down by the guilt of realization. And it suddenly occurred to me that that’s how Soo feels, and what we see in the letter this episode, is a glimpse of all that going on, on the inside of him.

The epilogue has Soo acting all flippant again, saying to the camera that Woo Yeon is bound to come back to him, but, importantly, there is uncertainty in his eyes and in his fidgeting hands, that come through when the spotlight is off, which are important clues that tell us more about what Soo is really feeling, beneath that flippant bravado.

E12. I found Soo’s consternation at Woo Yeon pushing him away and even hitting him, mid-make-out session, quite endearing. It’s definitely new, seeing him all up in a twist because he’s afraid that he’s done something wrong and made Woo Yeon angry. The fact that he calls Hyun Jae (Choi Chan Ho) out for a drink over this, is proof that he really does take Woo Yeon to heart, a great deal.

E12. I rather liked the remark that Soo makes about why he hadn’t photographed people before; that he mustn’t have looked at people with much affection. This rings true to me.. I do feel that how we view other people influences how we interact with them, whether it’s in conversation or through an art form like photography. In this sense, I like what Soo’s move into photographing people indicates; that he’s started to look at people with affection. The fact that he attributes this development to Woo Yeon, is very meaningful when I think about it.

[END SPOILER]

Shin Ye Eun as Woo Yeon

I have to confess that I mostly found it rather difficult to relate to Woo Yeon, as our female lead. Our entire premise hinges on the fact that Woo Yeon’s been in love with Soo for 10 years and counting, and is unable to move on from those feelings, despite Soo making his lack of romantic intentions clear.

I have to admit that I felt quite bemused because I don’t personally understand this thing that Show keeps reiterating, that you can’t control your heart and you can’t control who you like. Maybe I’m the weird one, but each time I’ve had feelings for someone and those feelings weren’t reciprocated, I’d mope and be sad, sure, but I’d also move on. Y’know, eventually. So this longstanding inability to move on puzzled me. It’s a thing that many dramas refer to and use as plot points, so I can’t fault Show too much for using it too. I just.. can’t relate, and this affected my ability to identify with Woo Yeon.

In fact, I wanted so much for Woo Yeon to be free of these fetters, that I found myself rooting for her to put down her feelings for Soo, and move on. Woo Yeon does grow to some degree, in this area, which I consider a positive thing.

On another note, I also wanted to say that there were times when I found Woo Yeon’s actions and decisions difficult to get behind, which I’ll talk more about later, in her section with Soo. For now, I’ll just say that in order to not hate her as a character, I rationalized that as a flawed individual, it’s entirely possible that Woo Yeon would make poorly considered choices sometimes, or be mean, sometimes.

[SPOILER ALERT]

E1. I do give Woo Yeon credit for owning her feelings and making her confession at the airport, so that she won’t have any regrets. But like I said, I’m not super pleased with how she’s basically ruined every relationship she’s ever had since then, because of her lingering feelings for Soo. That can’t be healthy.

E2. I am pleased that Woo Yeon finally makes a stand about not seeing Soo anymore, despite Soo insisting that he still wants to see her, as a friend. She even does it twice, because despite her determination to cut him out of her life, they still eventually cross paths while on Jeju Island, and so she tells him that she never wants to see him again, again. I appreciate that she recognizes that she needs to do this, for her own sake, even though she still has feelings for him. I like this thing where feelings don’t dictate her actions; it shows mental strength, and it also shows a measure of maturity.

E3. I’m pleased to see Woo Yeon actively working to stay away from Soo, while making way in her passion to do calligraphic work, and sparking the interest of second male lead Joon Soo, who happens to be the CEO of the publishing company. It feels like her life is beginning to become more interesting and exciting, without needing to hinge on Soo’s existence or presence in her life. This feels healthy.

E3. I liked seeing Woo Yeon enjoy her time at the calligraphy event, making wallpapers for people, and having people react so positively to her work. It’s also nice to see her having fun at the company gathering afterwards.

E3. I like Woo Yeon’s take on the calligraphy project that Joon Soo offers her. It’s so true that this is the first time a project has come to her, for her and her alone. She’s not being asked to fill in for someone else; she’s being asked to participate on her own merit. No wonder she’s so excited to accept.

Mostly, I am pleased that Woo Yeon makes her decision to be just friends with Soo, and actually sticks with it. Ok, I know that she will have to change her mind later, if Soo is truly our male lead, but for now, I am happy that she’s moving on. It also gives me a lot of satisfaction to see the hints of disgruntlement about Soo, as he comes to realize that Yeon Woo has changed the way she sees and treats him, and he isn’t quite getting the reactions from her that he’s used to. Yess.

E7. I find it a  nice change to see Woo Yeon be so noncommittal and unaffected around Soo. YES. I know this sounds like a small thing, but for a girl who used to be so hyperaware of Soo’s every move and every breath, I consider this a big, liberating win. I’m glad for her, that she now feels comfortable enough to just speak her mind and be herself around Soo. It’s bonus that she’s got a nice boyfriend who appreciates her.

[END SPOILER]

Kim Dong Joon as Joon Soo

It isn’t long into our story that Show introduces Joon Soo as a contender for Woo Yeon’s affections, and I have to admit, I found him quite perfect, pretty much right away. In fact, his perfection in almost every area tickled me, because Soo’s always going on about how perfect he is, so Joon Soo’s actual perfection makes him seem like an excellent rival for Soo, heh.

Generally speaking, I liked Joon Soo and I even rooted for him to succeed in winning Woo Yeon’s heart (see my earlier expressed desire for Woo Yeon to break free of her lingering feelings for Soo). However, just like I’d mentioned that I found Soo too opaque in our initial episodes, I also found Joon Soo too opaque.

He appears so perfect and handsome – and understanding too! But, what is he really thinking? We don’t know, because Show doesn’t allow us that insight. Because of this, Joon Soo’s presence, while pleasant, feels almost clinical and sterile, a little reminiscent of a boyfriend robot.

Quite possibly because of this, I found Joon Soo altogether a little flat, and I didn’t manage to quite connect with Joon Soo as a real character. I still found him generally pleasant, though.

[SPOILER ALERT]

E4. So far, I am enjoying Joon Soo as a potential romantic rival. I mean, he’s handsome, successful and kind, but what really gets my attention, is his straightforward honesty with Woo Yeon. I find that refreshing, especially since most dramas would’ve used his “twist of fate” phone connection with Woo Yeon as a long-running secret of some sort.

Instead, he ‘fesses up early and quickly, and in such a way that emphasizes his empathy for her, and retains his appreciation for her, while establishing a sense of solidarity between them, because he understands what it feels like to be in her shoes. That’s pretty darn impressive. It’s no wonder Young Hee and Jin Joo (Ahn Eun Jin and Baek Soo Min) swoon on Woo Yeon’s behalf.

E10. I guess we are learning more about Joon Soo, with him finally showing some disgruntled feelings around his break-up with Woo Yeon. I don’t know if it’s the way it’s written, or if it’s just Kim Dong Joon’s delivery; I find this version of Joon Soo quite unnatural, and that’s a downer.

[END SPOILER]

Woo Yeon + Soo

It isn’t often that I come away from a romance-centric drama not feeling a great deal about the central romance, but here we are. The main loveline in this show did not capture my heart the way I wanted it to.

I think the reason for this is that Show doesn’t give a whole lot in terms of helping me to care about these characters, and because I only care about them in a rather minimal manner, I don’t feel a great deal for them, whether they’re going through the angst of a one-sided love, the euphoria of having their feelings reciprocated, or the heartbreak of separation. It’s not that I feel nothing for them; I do feel some measure of sympathy/happiness (select appropriate emotion) for them, but it’s more a casual, in-passing sort of feeling, rather than something that I sincerely feel in my soul.

I think this is where Show fails, and why this drama isn’t more popular.

As an upside, I do feel that Show does a nice job of showcasing and unpacking the various complicated thoughts and emotions that Soo and Woo Yeon face. It’s just that.. I don’t feel the feels. My head gets it, but my heart is.. often mostly quizzical.

I do have a lot of thoughts about how this main loveline unfolds, so here are all my reactions – the good, the bad, and the ugly – to this loveline, as it unfolded.

[SPOILER ALERT]

A longstanding crush

E1. We spend most of episode 1 in a flashback detailing how Woo Yeon and Soo became friends, and I’m having mixed feelings.

On the one hand, the way he is so flippant towards her, even though he does show a reasonable measure of care and concern, is rather perplexing. His self-aggrandizing one-liners are also not very funny to me at the moment. Plus, I find Ong Seong Wu’s delivery rather opaque, as in, I feel like I don’t have insight into what Soo is really thinking, most of the time. And while this is quite possibly by design, it does make me a little annoyed with Soo because he seems to care, and then he seems to not care much at all – and then he seems to care again.

I also don’t know how I feel about Woo Yeon nursing a crush on Soo for so many years, after he’s told her that he doesn’t like her as anything but a friend. It doesn’t seem healthy to not be able to move on, although this does vibe old school Hallyu.

E4. The conversation that Soo and Woo Yeon have during her break at the cafe, is pretty healthy. I like that when she talks about feeling like she doesn’t fit in anywhere, and questions her worth, he tells her about his challenges when he moved to the US. It’s the first glimpse we’ve had that he’s really not as perfect as he appears, and that he knows it. If these two being friends can improve the health levels of the conversations they have, I’m all for it. It’d make any romantic developments later, healthier too, no?

E4. While I don’t appreciate how Soo makes Woo Yeon do almost all the work when he moves into his own apartment, I do feel a little sorry when I realize that it’s partly because he has no one else to ask for help – though that doesn’t excuse how he plonks most of the work on her. What I do like, though, is that she doesn’t allow it to get to her, and simply takes it as payment for his silence about her having liked him before. I also like how honest she is, when she admits that she is that embarrassed by it, because she thinks it makes her look pathetic and easy.

I’m quite charmed by her newfound forthrightness with Soo, and perhaps he is, too? Because the way his hand hovers over hers, and the way he ekes out the words, “Don’t go; don’t meet him,” feel pregnant with meaning. And then there’s the way he gazes right into her eyes, without wavering. Is it too soon to squee?

E5. We are seeing more of Soo’s feelings peek through the surface, mostly because of his disgruntlement at Woo Yeon spending time with Joon Soo while exploring the possibility of liking Joon Soo for real. I honestly don’t feel sorry for Soo, though.

He tells Woo Yeon that she twisted his good deed to portray it as an example of him pranking her, but I mean, how can he fault Woo Yeon for it, when he’s never told her that he’d actually been saving her from a different, mean-spirited prank, when he’d pulled her hoodie down over her face? Instead of alerting her to how the other girls had been planning to let a chalkboard duster fall on her head, he’d told Woo Yeon that he did it because he deserved to only see pretty things in life and she was too ugly. And now, he’s peeved that she doesn’t see his good intentions back then? Pfft. That makes no sense. And I’m glad, actually, that he’s perplexed and upset.

On the upside, I’m glad that it bothers Soo when he hears from a drunk Jin Joo, that Woo Yeon’s cried because of him. It’s a stretch that it’s never occurred to Soo that Woo Yeon might have shed tears while having a crush on him for 10 years, but I rationalize that he’s avoided the thought all this time, and so, when he’s confronted with it now, it really bothers him.

E5. While Soo’s ramping up his efforts to prevent Woo Yeon from seeing Joon Soo, I’m glad that Woo Yeon is being consistent about putting her foot down. I also like that we see how she does struggle with it. It’s not that she’s suddenly become immune to Soo. It’s realistic that when he gets up close and personal with her, and asks her not to go out with Joon Soo, her heart would waver; she’s liked him for years, after all. But I’m pleased that she doesn’t give in to that wavering, and walks away anyway.

E5. Soo inviting himself to dinner with Joon Soo and Woo Yeon is just the kind of thing an annoying kid brother might do. I find it funny that he’d do something so immature, given that he’s always projecting an image of being aloof and noncommittal. And I can’t deny that I feel a sense of satisfaction from seeing all his efforts shut down by Woo Yeon. I’m getting some of that schadenfreude I’ve been waiting for, and I like it.

E6. I have to say, I feel conflicted about Soo’s declaration that he needs to keep seeing Woo Yeon. On the one hand, he’s admitting a measure of need and emotion around having her in his life that he’s not articulated before, which is arguably possibly swoony? On the other hand, it niggles at me that this expression of emotion is, ultimately, about him. It’s about how he needs to see her, and how he feels happy at the thought of seeing her, and how, if she disappears from his life, he’ll really feel alone. This smells quite strongly of self-focus, and I’m not really swayed by it, to be honest.

We begin our episode with Soo narrating the story of the boy who cried wolf, and it isn’t long before we see that he’s the boy who’s cried wolf all this time. Now that he’s trying to put across to Woo Yeon that he hopes she won’t see Joon Soo, she won’t believe him anymore, because of all the times he’s appeared to toy with her feelings via the words he’s said. There’s also how voiceover later in the episode, where Soo says that he really never thought a wolf would appear. This indicates how he’s always assumed that Woo Yeon would be there for him, constant and unchanging. This also indicates how his focus is on himself and not Woo Yeon. How else could he arrive at the conclusion that Woo Yeon would always be there when he needed her?

But, he does sneak a photo of Woo Yeon this episode, a la Winter Sonata, and this might be his most honest expression of emotion so far, when it comes to Woo Yeon. The fact that he wants a picture of her, when he’s never had the urge to take a picture of any other person, says a lot. Yes, he’s selfish and self-focused, but he does genuinely like her.

In the end, I don’t feel bad for Soo (well, except for the part where he gets in an accident, I do feel a bit sorry for him for that), because he chooses not to tell Yeon Woo the truth about why he didn’t show up at Namsan Tower. I can understand why Yeon Woo wouldn’t tell him the truth, because he’s disappointed her so many times in the past, and she wouldn’t want to admit that she went there only to be stood up. But he should have told her that he couldn’t be there because he’d gotten in an accident and ended up in hospital. If you want to pursue the girl, you need to put yourself out there, dude. And since you refused to put yourself out there and just made up some vague excuse, I don’t feel bad for you when Yeon Woo goes back to Joon Soo.

A crush reversal

E7. I thought it was very thoughtful and sweet of Soo to get Woo Yeon a pair of comfortable shoes, and to also get bandaids for her blisters, even though she didn’t say anything about her new shoes hurting her feet. That shows that he’s observant of her, and he’s considerate enough to actually do something about it to make her more comfortable, even though he’s wistful about the fact that she wore the shoes for Joon Soo’s sake, and is set to go on a date with him after her shoot with Soo. This is definite progress on Soo’s part.

E7. I love that role reversal of Woo Yeon being the one to push Soo out of the way of an oncoming vehicle, causing Soo’s heart to go into overdrive. In a drama world that feels so reminiscent of old-school Hallyu, this feels like a cheeky change. I also felt like the way Woo Yeon grabs Soo’s wrist is also a cheeky role reversal, flipped for a bit of amusement for us as viewers.

E7. The fact that Soo instinctively gets out of the way, when he sees Joon Soo at the movie theater, says a lot. Just a couple of episodes ago, Soo would’ve likely marched up to Joon Soo to brag that Woo Yeon had invited him to the movies with her, and he therefore has every right to be there. And, he would’ve insisted on making the movie date an uncomfortable threesome, too. But this time, Soo is reflexively considerate of how Woo Yeon feels, and he makes to leave without saying goodbye, in order to make things easier for Woo Yeon. That’s huge, as far as Soo is concerned.

E8. For the record, there’s a mistranslate (at least with my subs) in the first few minutes of this episode. Last episode, we’d ended the episode with Soo telling Woo Yeon that he likes her, and this is repeated this episode, before he goes on to tell her to like Joon Soo. This.. is a mistranslation.

In Korean, he omits both the subject and the object, so he basically says “[Subject-omitted] [Object-omitted] like,” (좋아해 / joh-ahae) and then he repeats himself, but this time with the object, “[Subject-omitted] like him,” (그사람 좋아라고) with a suffix “라고” that indicates that he’s just repeated himself.

What this means is that the cliffhanger last episode was a misdirect; what Woo Yeon would understand from Soo’s words, is that he was telling her to like Joon Soo and have a good relationship with him, ie, she would not receive this as Soo making his own confession to her. (Of course, this could also be Soo’s way of masking his own confession.) The point is, he didn’t actually confess after all, even though the subs indicate that he does. And therefore, Woo Yeon not reacting to the confession is a non-issue, because the confession doesn’t really exist, in the scene.

E8. This episode, I finally get what people have been saying about both leads not being very nice in this show.

Things I didn’t like this episode: The Woo Yeon Edition

1. I didn’t like the way she pulled the chair away from Soo, when she didn’t want him to sit next to her, which caused him to fall to the floor. That wasn’t necessary.

2. Woo Yeon telling Soo to leave and get lost forever, wasn’t very nice. He shouldn’t have to leave the country just because she’s uncomfortable with him being around. But I do think she has the right to tell him to leave her alone.

3. Woo Yeon removing the photograph from Soo’s wallet was an overstepping of boundaries, I feel. Yes, it’s a photo of her, but that’s his wallet.

Things I didn’t like this episode: The Soo Edition

1. Soo isn’t being very respectful of boundaries. Now that Woo Yeon’s officially dating Joon Soo, he shouldn’t do things that indicate he’s vying for Woo Yeon’s attention. Him saying to Joon Soo that Joon Soo’s like an unwanted freebie whenever he sees Woo Yeon, is rude and out of line. I’d be annoyed too, in Joon Soo’s place.

2. Soo saying that thing about Woo Yeon needing to get back the item that she took off while in his car, was obviously gunning for a rise out of Joon Soo. Not cool, especially since she hadn’t even actually taken off the shoes in his car.

3. Soo calling Woo Yeon “easy” just because she confirms that Joon Soo is an important person to her. Not cool. Joon Soo’s her boyfriend now, and it makes perfect sense that he’d be an important person to Woo Yeon.

4. Overtly competing with Joon Soo. I guess this is debatable since simply competing with Joon Soo in silly things like carrying stacks of books isn’t a bad thing in itself. But in the context of Soo trying to get Woo Yeon’s attention, I didn’t like this very much. Soo addressing Joon Soo as “old man” is rude, too.

5. Soo reaching out to touch a sleeping Woo Yeon, is out of line. Joon Soo had every right to wrist-grab him to stop him.

On the plus side, Soo does apologize to Woo Yeon for all the pranking and bullying in the past, but this is really very little, very late.

Soo also shows flashes of gentleness in his gaze, like when he tells Woo Yeon not to fall in the future. There’s a plaintive quality to his gaze that appeals to me, at times like this. But again, it is very little, in the overall scheme of things.

E10. As it turns out, Soo isn’t so great at being patient in a one-sided love. I understand that it’s normal for people to take 3 steps forward, but 2 steps back, when they’re trying to change for the better, but given that we spend mere highlights on Soo’s one month of keeping his promise of leaving Woo Yeon alone, his 3 steps forward don’t feel like much, and his 2 steps back, which are showing up as him being more like his old self-centered self, feel like quite a lot, because we get to see those loud and clear.

Woo Yeon says that it’s over with Soo, but when he ignores her at the exhibition, she feels slighted. It does seem contradictory on paper, but this is quite human, I think. After all that she’s poured out of herself in her one-sided love for Soo, there must be a part of her that’s at least curious to see  – and probably even looks forward to – how he’ll live up to his promise of switching places with her, and liking her the way she’d liked him. And so, the disappointment that she feels, when he completely flips over her expectations, is pretty understandable, even though it does also make Woo Yeon look like she’s doing the thing that Young Hee said, where you don’t want someone, but you don’t want anyone else to have them either.

Woo Yeon thinks she understands Soo, but ends up misunderstanding him. He wasn’t ignoring her at the exhibition to be his mean ol’ flippant self; he’d felt uncertain of what to say and how to act, and therefore hadn’t said anything.

A couple is born – finally

E11. The key difference this episode, is that Soo is noticeably sweeter and more considerate and thoughtful. Interestingly, the thing that triggers that change, is a remark from Joon Soo, who tells him that the manner in which something is said can make it feel careless, even if it’s something positive like telling someone you like them.

Do I find the epiphany and subsequent change in behavior rather convenient? Well, yes. I do feel like the shift in Soo is pretty big and quite sudden. I find it a bit of a stretch, that Soo would take Joon Soo’s words to heart to much, that it would cause him to radically change his mindset overnight. To Show’s credit, though, this is tempered by him still throwing about his flippant self-aggrandizing statements when talking to Woo Yeon, which feel familiar – only this time, he often says them with an overlay of irony. That’s a pretty smart way of making him feel familiar, even in the midst of his newly sweet behavior.

The other thing that I find quite sudden, is how Show overcomes Woo Yeon’s desire to keep Soo at a distance, and closes the gap between them to establish them as a couple.

Again, to Show’s credit, this is rationalize-able. Firstly, Soo scalds his back while shielding Woo Yeon, so it makes sense that Woo Yeon would feel indebted to Soo, enough to let down her guard and help him out. Of course, Soo makes full use of the opportunity to spend time with Woo Yeon and inundate her with casual by-the-way type love confessions.

Secondly, it’s not hard to believe that Woo Yeon still likes Soo, despite her resolution to move on with her life. After all, her strong, inexplicable, can’t-shake-these-heart-eyes for Soo is central to her character. Because of this, it’s not hard to rationalize that even while she’d made the decision to cut him out of her life and move on, she’d still had feelings for him. Therefore, with Soo suddenly becoming all sweet and sincere towards her, it’s not hard to believe that she would cave, sooner than later. Which means that even though Woo Yeon’s “change of heart” feels sudden, especially since I’d been internally egging her on to stick to her resolution of moving on from Soo, it doesn’t feel like it’s out of character, for her.

Finally, even though I personally felt a little disappointed that Woo Yeon wasn’t allowed to enjoy Soo’s one-sided love for longer, considering how he’d been so cavalier about her feelings for a whole decade, I can believe that Soo would take his chance when he saw it, to move in and kiss Woo Yeon. That element of impatience, and that confidence – at least with Woo Yeon – to seize an opportunity even if it means overstepping agreed boundaries, are things that I can easily accept as part of Soo’s character. (For the record, this doesn’t mean that I endorse or like those traits in him; I just believe that these traits are part of him.)

I found it pleasant to watch Soo being nicer to Woo Yeon, and I think it does say a lot about how he feels, that he’s decided that he will give up traveling for work, if Woo Yeon asks him to.

E12. It’s official. This show is much more enjoyable to watch when Soo’s being sweeter. This episode was chock-full of sweetness from Soo, and I found myself having a pretty nice time.

Soo is much more endearing when he’s happy, that’s for sure. The moony eyes and happy gazes that he wears while we watch a highlight reel of he and Woo Yeon getting into the groove of dating, is refreshing and quite charming. I like the detail, that he can’t seem to stop telling Woo Yeon that he loves her. That’s quite a turnaround, and it kind of seems warranted, since, like he says, there are 10 years’ worth of less than ideal memories to make up for. On that note, I thought the school uniform date was cute, and I liked the intention behind it, to make new memories in place of the older, less happy ones.

I also like the detail, that Soo doesn’t actually realize that Woo Yeon hasn’t said “I love you” back to him, until their friends ask him about it. This tells me that he hasn’t been calculative at all. Each time he’s told Woo Yeon that he loves her – and there are multiple occasions when he does so – it’s been spontaneous and guileless. I like that.

E12. I found it comforting and amusing, that we see from the epilogue that Soo’s been holding back and exercising a lot of self-control, in trying to treat Woo Yeon the way he thinks he needs to treat a serial dater, so that she won’t feel suffocated by him or try to run away from him. HA. I just like the idea that he’s afraid to lose her, and is being such a careful dork about it.

The struggle of long-distance dating

E13. For a while, Show toys with the idea of Soo giving up travel photography for commercial photography, in order to stay in Korea with Woo Yeon, but instead, Soo asks Woo Yeon to go with him on his dream project, and Woo Yeon agrees, but eventually changes her mind, because of a work opportunity.

E14. I appreciate that Soo doesn’t pressure her to leave with him, and understands that just as he’s choosing to go, for the sake of his dream, Woo Yeon is choosing to stay, for hers.

I also think Show does a decent job of teasing out the challenges of maintaining a long distance relationship. The challenges of different time zones, busy schedules and tired bodies and minds do add up after a while, and I find the portrayal of the erosion of the connection between Soo and Woo Yeon, realistic.

It’s just that when they break up, I saw it as an unfortunate event, but not something that really hit me in the heart. I concede, though, that the epilogue, where we see the break-up from Soo’s point of view, is nicely done. Ong Seong Wu finally gets to showcase some of his acting strengths, and I sincerely felt for Soo in this scene, where the shifts in his gaze, the slight sheen of tears in his eyes, and the small shifts in his body language convey just how much this break-up is hitting him, and causing his heart to hurt in new and unexpected ways.

E14. In the end, we get a time-skip, and Soo returns to look for Woo Yeon, even as Joon Soo’s making his way to her studio to see her. It’s clear that even while Woo Yeon’s moved on, Soo hasn’t, and still nurses feelings for her. I do like this idea that Soo, who’s always been emotionally closed-off, actually loves Woo Yeon so much, that he’d still carry a torch for her, after they’ve broken up, and he’s continued to travel the world. That’s a rather romantic notion, I have to admit.

[END SPOILER]

Woo Yeon + Joon Soo

Unlike most kdrama romances, our female lead actually has a secondary loveline with our second male lead. While this is unusual by kdrama standards, I can see why this was a useful element to include in this particular story.

With Woo Yeon actively trying to get over her one-sided love for Soo, it isn’t too farfetched that she would seriously consider dating a nice man, and maybe consider making him a part of her future.

Because I personally found Woo Yeon’s lingering crush on Soo unhealthy and unhelpful, I was actually on board with this secondary loveline. At points, I even hoped that Joon Soo would be romantic endgame for Woo Yeon, instead of Soo. That’s saying a lot, since I find that I mostly naturally gravitate towards rooting for Show’s appointed main leads.

[SPOILER ALERT]

E3. It’s drama coincidence that Joon Soo has taken over Soo’s old phone number, and is therefore the recipient of all of Woo Yeon’s drunk calls. I can buy the idea that Joon Soo would take the time to listen to her drunken ramblings because he’s a publisher, and therefore he’d naturally have an interest in stories. I can believe that he’d be intrigued by his persistent drunk caller and the story behind her ramblings.

E5. I like that Woo Yeon is upfront with Joon Soo and tells him she doesn’t think it’s a good idea for her to date him, even though she’s told Soo that she’ll date whomever she pleases. I also like that she is honest with Joon Soo about the reason; that she has a history of bad relationships, and she doesn’t want theirs to turn into a bad relationship.

E6. Joon Soo’s love confession is very well thought-out, I have to admit. A lot of thought and effort must have gone into selecting just the right books and the right lines within those books, to create his confession.

The choice of doing it through books is perfect for them both too. He loves books, and she loves great sayings. It’s sweet. I also like how he gives her time to think about her response, instead of rushing her.

Even though I don’t think this rebound sort of relationship is a good idea for either Joon Soo or Yeon Woo, I can understand why she’d embrace him. Even though she took off and left him at the theater, he’s still waiting for her, hours later, just to wish her a happy birthday. He isn’t mad at her, and doesn’t hold a grudge, and when she asks if it’s too late, he says that it isn’t, with a smile on his face. I’d hug him too, in her shoes.

E8. At this point in our story, I find myself actively rooting for Woo Yeon and Joon Soo to make their relationship work, and I also feel like it’s actually healthy for Woo Yeon to move on from her feelings for Soo.

Of course, this being Dramaland and all, Joon Soo doesn’t end up getting the girl. However, to Show’s credit, he’s given a reasonably dignified and graceful exit.

[END SPOILER]

STUFF I LIKED

Ahn Eun Jin as Young Hee

Among our main female characters, I found myself most interested in Young Hee. It’s not that she’s perfect; she’s flawed, just like our other characters. But I found her refreshing in her straight-shooter sort of way, and I liked how she often speaks her mind, in situations where most people would choose to stay silent.

Beneath the forthright surface, though, Young Hee is private and complicated, with many worries and concerns that prevent her from pursuing her own happiness. On top of that, she also has many scars and open wounds that she fiercely hides from view, even as she strives to keep her chin up, to face the world.

Young Hee has a lot to deal with, and as my heart went out to her, I found myself growing more and more invested in her happiness.

[SPOILER ALERT]

E3. I really like Young Hee. She’s so frank and straightforward, and is just cool, in the way that she cuts to the heart of things without getting distracted by extraneous details or frills, and stands up for herself when she sees the need. However, I do find it quite sad that despite how admirably capable she is at speaking up for herself, that even she is not spared from having to yield to her boyfriend’s mom’s demand-request to help cook, clean and generally make preparations for her boyfriend’s dad’s birthday. It does seem to me that if she were to decline, that it would have a serious negative impact on her relationship with her boyfriend and his family. I feel like this is going to a narrative arc for her at some point.

I do like that she doesn’t keep it from her boyfriend Hyun Jae though, and talks about it with him. This honesty between them is refreshing.

E6. Young Hee might feel like she is more deserving of the right to wallow in her sorrows than the people around her, but she’s actually still denying herself that right, to acknowledge the presence of these challenges and difficulties in her life. She won’t bear Jin Joo talking about her smaller problems, but won’t talk about her own bigger problems, which are more “deserving” of acknowledgment, either. It’s a difficult and twisted way to live.

Mom’s cancer arc

E10. I got tears in my eyes when Young Hee cries in Mom’s arms, asking her not to die. Gulp.

E12. Young Hee really is having it hard. I am grateful that she’s spending some quality time with Mom, and having some much-needed healing conversation with her. I’m also glad that she doesn’t hide Mom’s illness from Hyun Jae. But, the fact that Hyun Jae’s sister (Kim Ha Jin) shows up and asks her to let Hyun Jae go, is truly the last thing she needs. Gosh, can’t this girl catch a break?

E13. I also just wanted to say that Show’s depiction of Young Hee’s mom’s cancer struggles, is so painfully raw. The conversations that Mom and Young Hee have about death are so poignant, and this episode, it was hard to listen to Mom talk about why she wanted to stay alive, at least until Young Hee has a baby of her own. All of the emotions feel so raw and real, and this makes Young Hee’s struggle and dilemma all the more palpable.

[END SPOILER]

Young Hee & Hyun Jae’s relationship

This is the loveline that captured my heart the most, in this drama world.

When we meet them, Young Hee and Hyun Jae have already been dating for 10 years, and what strikes me right away, is how affectionate they still are with each other, after 10 years.

On the surface, they are a really sweet couple, and it’s easy to assume that they will naturally get married soon and start their own family. However, as we progress deeper into our story, it becomes clear that there are deep-seated issues that are keeping them apart.

The more I saw of this sweet couple, the harder I rooted for them to resolve their issues and be happy together, forever. I wouldn’t have minded watching an entire drama with these two as our leads.

[SPOILER ALERT]

E4. I smell trouble in Young Hee’s relationship with Hyun Jae. They really love each other and are committed to each other, but Hyun Jae is not doing a good job protecting Young Hee from his mom, and Young Hee’s sending him mixed signals about what he should and shouldn’t do. Ack. This is very true-to-life, and I hope that their relationship can weather the storm.

E5. I find it really sad, that Young Hee’s been dating Hyun Jae for 10 whole years, and she still keeps her family matters a secret from him. I can only imagine how frustrating that must be for Hyun Jae. He even offers to drive Young Hee to where she needs to go, no questions asked, but she declines. And her promise to him, that she’ll tell him about everything later, looks half-hearted. It’s clear that Young Hee feels ashamed of her family situation, but really, how can she expect Hyun Jae to be ok with this? I’m amazed that they’ve lasted 10 years, if she’s been so secretive and withholding about her family, all this time.

The thing that strikes me about Young Hee, is how deeply entrenched in shame she is. She is so paralyzed by her humiliation regarding her family circumstances, that she cannot bring herself to lay them – herself, really – bare before Hyun Jae, even though they love each other and have been together for 10 years. She believes that if Hyun Jae were to see how appalling her family circumstances are, that there’s no way for her to stand beside him and hold her head up high. Interestingly, it’s not that she believes he won’t love her anymore; it’s that she feels that she won’t have dignity in front of him anymore.

E6. I feel sorry for both Young Hee and Hyun Jae. I feel sorry for Young Hee because she’s in a stranglehold created by perceptions shaped by her childhood, and she doesn’t know how to get out of it. And I feel sorry for Hyun Jae because he’s doing his best to be a good boyfriend, and he’s trying to understand her and help her, but she isn’t willing to let him in. As a result, he feels alienated from her, even after so many years together.

E7. Guh. Hyun Jae really is the picture of a perfect boyfriend. Where can I find a Hyun Jae of my own, please? I love how patient he is with Young Hee, even though she’s kept him at arm’s length for so long. He’s so gently intent on getting her to open up to him, and lean on him, and he’s so loving, through it all. I’m glad that Young Hee finally tells him what she thinks is holding her back from marriage, and I just about melted into a puddle when Hyun Jae tells her not run away, and not to make him spend his life with someone else, because that would be a punishment, since he only wants to marry her. Melt. Meltmeltmelt. How wonderful is he?? ❤️

E10. I actually really liked that Young Hee was getting ready to propose to Hyun Jae; this couple is really sweet together, if they can just get over Young Hee’s fear of commitment. Hyun Jae loves her so much, that I just want him to know that Young Hee does want to marry him. Sadly, Young Hee’s mum is sick, and this throws a spanner in the works; Young Hee doesn’t go through with the proposal after all. But.. on the plus side, she doesn’t attempt to hide Mom’s diagnosis from him, so that’s a step in the right direction?

E11. I think Hyun Jae and Young Hee make a very sweet couple – if only Young Hee would be able to overcome that inferiority complex that’s preventing her from sharing her heart and her struggles openly with Hyun Jae, who’s so ready and so willing to bear it all, that it hurts to watch him come up empty so often, in trying to co-bear Young Hee’s burdens.

I really want them to be together happily, because they clearly love each other a great deal. But Young Hee’s mom being so sick is a huge deal, and she’s backing away so resolutely from her earlier decision to propose to Hyun Jae.. Will Hyun Jae be able to rise above Young Hee’s worries, and love enough for the both of them? I’m hoping so much, that the answer is yes.

E13. Hyun Jae tries to choose to hold onto Young Hee, and even kneels in front of his parents and tells them that he can live without seeing them, but he can’t live without Young Hee. Young Hee, on the other hand, chooses to let him go, because she recognizes that she is unable to walk out of the misery that is her life, and she doesn’t want to make him walk with her, in that misery, even though he’s asking her to allow him to do so.

I find this heartbreaking, because these two people have loved each other so sincerely for so long, and yet, this is the outcome that they find themselves facing. It’s even more heartbreaking to think that not so long ago, Young Hee had finally overcome her demons long enough, to actually prepare to propose to Hyun Jae, with a ring and everything.

That said, I can understand Young Hee’s decision. From where she’s standing, Hyun Jae is hurting himself by insisting on being with her. And what she articulates to the other girls is startlingly profound:

“If only one side makes all the sacrifices in the name of love, that’s the beginning of misery. One person is miserable because he has to make sacrifices, and the other is miserable because she feels guilty. It’s so strange. You made the sacrifice in order to be happy, but neither person becomes happy. Nothing else remains but misery.”

That’s so penetratingly insightful. It’s so true, that if one person in the relationship makes all the sacrifices for the sake of love, eventually, resentment sets in, and, for the other person, guilt sets in, and neither of them is happy. I can see how this would likely be true in Young Hee and Hyun Jae’s case, and even though I really hate to see them split up, I can understand the reasoning behind it.

E14. I feel bad for them both. This isn’t noble idiocy; Young Hee has a valid point, that staying together would only give rise to resentment and guilt. She cannot choose her family over him, and she cannot help but feel guilty for holding onto him, while her circumstances dictate that they can’t get married.

He, on the other hand, is so full of heart and hope, that he’s willing to give up his family for her. However, as an objective bystander with no vested interest, I can foresee that this situation will only erode his heart and his hope, as time goes on. In this case, I can understand why this couple feels stuck, and I can also understand why Young Hee believes that the wisest course of action is to pull the plug earlier than later.

Hyun Jae’s tearful puppy eyes are very persuasive, though, and my heart absolutely goes out to him, because the last thing he wants to do, is break up with Young Hee. I feel his dilemma, especially in the scene at the restaurant, where he tells Soo that he doesn’t understand why he has to break up with Young Hee, but he understands why he cannot beg her to stay. Poor guy. 💔

[END SPOILER]

P.O as Sang Hyeok

I just wanted to say that I really enjoyed P.O as Sang Hyeok. Sang Hyeok’s not a character who gets a great deal of screen time, but he’s such a warm, affable, steadying sort of presence, that I truly think this drama world, and this group of friends, would have been very different without him.

Jin Joo’s loveline with Sang Hyeok

Sang Hyeok’s crush on Jin Joo is one of Show’s lighter arcs, and is often treated with lashings of comedy, and I have to admit that when Show was disappointing me on other fronts, it was my affection for sweet ol’ Sang Hyeok, and my desire to see him happy, that kept me hanging on. I just wanted to make sure our boy gets a happy ending, y’know?

While Sang Hyeok is openly crushing on Jin Joo, the scenes between them were absolute highlights of my watch, because Sang Hyeok proves himself to be one of the sweetest potential boyfriends, ever.

I must admit, though, that once Sang Hyeok gets his girl, I started to find the arc between Jin Joo and Sang Hyeok a lot less compelling. I guess when you take the romantic will-they-or-won’t-they tension out of the story, we’re mostly left with the comedy, and that makes it a lot less gripping. It was great while it lasted, though.

[SPOILER ALERT]

E11. Jin Joo’s blind date is truly the stuff of nightmares. The poop-and-run is iconic enough that if this show had a larger following, it’d totally become A Thing among fans. 🤢

But seriously, HOW SWEET IS SANG HYEOK??? Not only does he make the sweetest heart-filled doshirak for Jin Joo, he comes running when she calls after her nightmare of a blind date, to clean her car, and take it for a professional cleaning when it proves too difficult to clear out completely, and then brings her the key, with a smile. Guh. Sang Hyeok is literally making me rethink what I look for in a swoony male lead. 😍

What breaks my heart, though, is how Sang Hyeok tells Jin Joo that she can date him as an interim sort of thing; that if she finds someone that she likes better, he’ll send her off with a smile. He even asks her to toy with him. I mean, that makes me feel terrible for him. He’s such a sweetheart, and deserves so much more than he’s asking for. DON’T USE HIM AND BREAK HIS HEART, JIN JOO!! I am so invested in what happens to Sang Hyeok, that I would continue watching this show to find out, even if I’d hated what happened on the OTP front.

E12. I love how in awe of Jin Joo Sang Hyeok is at the police station, when she uses her prosecutor smarts to turn the tables on Scammer Boy. That admiration sparkling in Sang Hyeok’s eyes is the cutest thing, and I love how he appreciates her for all that she is, without feeling intimidated by her job title.

The only regret that he expresses about his own, relatively lacking specs, is related to how suitable Jin Joo sees him as a match. Yet, the way he says it, is completely without guile or malice. He just sincerely regrets not studying harder, so that he could’ve potentially been a better match for Jin Joo.

The thing that gets me by the heart, though, is how he tells Jin Joo that he’s doing all these things for her not because he expects her to accept him, but because he wants her to know what it feels like to be loved, so that she won’t easily be swayed by rubbish men and therefore won’t easily get hurt. GUH. What a sweetheart he is! No wonder Jin Joo’s knees literally give out from under her. GRAB THIS BOY, JIN JOO. HE IS A TREASURE.

E13. Sang Hyeok finally gets his girl, but not before Jin Joo hurts his feelings in a big way. I was so hurt on his behalf, when she reflex-blurted out that he was a delivery person getting her doshirak to her. OUCH. That was so uncalled for, so insensitive and so disrespectful, especially since he’d told her that he was tired and yet he still wanted to bring her lunch.

I’m glad that Jin Joo comes through and apologizes to him, and eventually blurts out that she likes him too. The kiss was seriously awkward to watch, but I’m just happy for Sang Hyeok that he’s won Jin Joo over, because he’s liked her so much, for so long. Now don’t go breaking his heart, Jin Joo, by changing your mind. Boy is a sweet cinnamon roll who should be protected!

[END SPOILER]

Special shout-outs:

The girlfriends

I find it heartwarming that our three gal pals have remained close all these years, from high school into adulthood, and despite the fact that all three of them are so different in every way. I like the idea that they know one another for who they are and yet can get along, without having to put up pretenses with one another. That warms my heart.

For most of our story, we mostly see the girls get together to talk about boys and life, and Show keeps it fairly light, but it’s in our penultimate episode (details later), where the heft of this friendship really hits me in the feels.

The larger friend group

In a similar fashion, I like the idea that our group of friends have stuck together for so long, despite the fact that they’re all so different from one another, and walking such different paths. Somehow, when they get together at Sang Hyeok’s restaurant, it feels like a noisy gathering of classmates who never really grew up.

Soo’s parents

I’d started our show assuming that Soo’s parents would be peripheral to our story, as most kdrama parents are.

However, Show chooses to give them a mini arc of their own, which kinda-sorta mirrors Soo’s own arc, from time to time. I ended up enjoying their story of growth, realization and reconciliation more than I’d expected to, which is why I’m giving them a bit of a shout-out here.

THEMES / IDEAS [SPOILERS]

E3. The idea that feelings are alive, and if you ignore feelings, they get out of control. Soo doesn’t exactly hate his parents, but there’s a lot of anger and bitterness towards them that we catch glimpses of. And it’s just as the guesthouse owner says; his bitterness feeds on his memories and just keeps growing.

E4. That line about men only being able to friends with women if they like them romantically, and women only being able to friends with men if they don’t like them romantically, rings pretty true (though I’d say there are exceptions), and I like how that truism lands with a big ol’ thud in Soo’s head, as he quietly flounders as he tries to get his bearings around Woo Yeon’s new outlook.

E6. This episode, there’s the question of whether you need the “right” to feel bad for yourself. There’s the quarrel between Young Hee and Jin Joo, where Young Hee lashes out at Jin Joo because Jin Joo’s “big emergency” is nothing compared to her own troubles, and then there’s how Young Hee asks her mom why Mom is drinking, when it’s her that should need to drink instead.

E10. This episode, there’s the idea that misunderstandings come when you presume to understand others. Woo Yeon thinks she understands Soo, but ends up misunderstanding him.

E13. This episode it titled “Attitude towards what we love too much” and that’s exactly what we explore this hour. What I like about it, is, Show makes it clear that no matter what people choose as a result of loving someone too much, those choices are all valid.

SPOTLIGHT ON THE PENULTIMATE EPISODE [SPOILERS]

I have to admit that the main loveline between Soo and Woo Yeon is not grabbing me, BUT, aside from this, I actually found a lot of things to enjoy in this penultimate episode. In fact, this episode has been the most emotionally engaging, of all of Show’s episodes so far.

Ok, I do feel rather sorry for Soo, because he’s got such a plaintive, hopeful look in his eyes (nice job, Ong Seong Wu), even as Woo Yeon insists on keeping him at arm’s length, saying that it’s too late for them to start over. (As a random aside, Joon Soo now looks like a very young boy, with his new hairstyle. They should’ve let him keep the old one; he looked more convincing as a CEO then, I feel.)

And I get what Show expresses later in the episode, that Woo Yeon had felt too insecure to be straightforward with Soo, and had used the breakup line in the hope of getting some assurance and change in behavior on Soo’s part, but Soo, having been isolated for most of his life, and therefore not having a lot of experience interacting at deeper levels with others and learning to read between the lines, accepted that she really was in too much pain, and couldn’t bring himself to ask her not to break up with him.

A very unfortunate case of misunderstanding and miscommunication, certainly, but one that seems symptomatic of a lack of communication for the duration of their relationship, since this means that while all of these dissatisfactions were building up, Woo Yeon hadn’t actually said anything to Soo when they did talk, to express how she felt. For this reason, I feel a little sorry for them, because they’d lost each other, after taking such a long way around to be together, but this arc doesn’t truly inspire a strong reaction from me.

The thing that really grabbed my heart the most, this episode, is the arc around Young Hee’s mom.

It was really hard to watch Mom’s deathbed scene, as well as the various scenes leading up to it. Hyun Jae coming to see her, and sobbing his apologies; Young Hee tearfully asking Mom not to turn her back, but to show Young Hee her face; Mom barely being able to talk, from the pain; Mom apologizing for not being a good mother; Mom telling Young Hee she loves her; AUGH, this all made me cry actual tears. It’s such a hard thing to lose a parent, and it’s harder still for Young Hee, who’s given up Hyun Jae and their hopes for a happy life together, in order to be with her mom. 💔

It was very heartening, though, to see all the friends rally around Young Hee in their own ways. This episode, the friendship among the girls really comes to the forefront for me. Before, when they’d mostly just gotten together for drinks and to talk about boys, their friendship hadn’t struck me as anything particularly special. But this episode, when Woo Yeon and Jin Joo show up and immediately hug Young Hee and tell her it’s ok to cry, I began to see that there are much deeper, stronger roots in this friendship than I’d imagined. I am particularly touched that both Woo Yeon and Jin Joo don the mourning clothes, just as if they were literally Young Hee’s sisters, and sit next to her to welcome guests who want to pay their respects. That feels so.. personal.

I’m also invested in how things are, between Young Hee and Hyun Jae. In the year since they’ve broken up, Hyun Jae’s been unable to move on, still carrying big feelings for Young Hee, and it’s just so moving, really, the way he steps in now, to be someone she can lean on – even as he tells her that she can treat him like a rock or a tree. That is very moving to me, that he’s more concerned that Young Hee gets the comfort and support that she needs, than with what this might mean to him personally.

When he meets Young Hee by accident at the eatery and she gets drunk, he doesn’t hesitate to offer to carry her on his back, even though she’s literally just rebuffed his effort to reconcile with her. And when Young Hee starts crying because of what it’s meant to her, to see her mother’s back all these years, Hyun Jae turns around to face her, and let her cry.

Augh. I can’t help thinking of what Hyun Jae said to Young Hee at the eatery, that after she’d forced him out of her misery, he’d been living in his own misery, and it hurts. There is so much wistfulness, sadness and longing in Hyun Jae’s eyes, and I feel so sorry for him, that there’s literally nothing he can do to change the way Young Hee sees their relationship, because he’s actually done nothing wrong to cause their breakup.

I dearly want Hyun Jae and Young Hee to reconcile, because there is so much genuine care there, between them.

On another note, I did also enjoy Soo’s reflections in general. For example, I like the idea that each person has their own world, so if a person enters your world, it means an entire world is entering, and if you open up your heart, you’d be able to see a whole new world. That feels like such an open-hearted statement coming from Soo, and truth-wise, it sounds about right to me, as well.

I also like that Soo takes the previous statement about photographing people because he’s learned to have affection for them, and extends it to himself. It feels like an Aha! moment to me, to hear him say that he’d never had enough affection for himself before, to want to photograph himself. This feels like a big reveal, because I hadn’t seen Soo’s inability to love himself, until he articulated it this episode. Given that he was always full of self-aggrandizing talk, I’d say he camouflaged it pretty well. But actions speak louder than words, and it feels like a personal breakthrough, that he’s now able to photograph himself, because he now likes himself enough to do so. I like that.

I don’t feel very invested in whether Soo and Woo Yeon will reconcile in our finale, but I do feel sorry for Soo, that he’s so torn up about having realized too late, the reason Woo Yeon turned away from him. Still, I do feel that he’s learning something about relationships, and he’s growing, so even though he’s heartbroken now, I feel like he’s on a good path to embracing life in a healthy way. Sometimes we fall down, but that’s how we learn, and then we pick ourselves up, and we keep going – I think he can do that.

THOUGHTS ON THE ENDING [SPOILERS]

As I’d expected, Show serves up a happy ending. And, also as I’d expected, I have mixed feelings about it.

Show spends a good chunk of time bringing Soo and Woo Yeon back together as a couple, and while that’s good and all (coz isn’t this the whole point of the drama?), I find that I’m less interested in their reunion, than I am in Soo’s growth journey. Granted, it’s all related, since Soo’s journey is a large part of why Woo Yeon chooses to be with him again, so there’s that.

Given how we see Soo plaintively wait for Woo Yeon at his exhibition on a daily basis, I was really surprised to learn that he actually hadn’t even given her a ticket. He’d expected that she wouldn’t come, but had waited for her anyway, “just in case.” Aw. There’s something about that plaintiveness that stirs my heart with sympathy for him.

I like the fact that Soo’s relationship with his mom gets a bit of the spotlight, in the journey to reconciliation with Woo Yeon. It’s true that Soo had become a lot more open and communicative with his parents, as a result of dating Woo Yeon. And I do think that it’s important that Woo Yeon knows that she’s been a positive influence in Soo’s life. Mom turns out to be quite the MVP, when it comes to Soo’s reunion with Woo Yeon.

I enjoyed the glimpse into Soo’s personal growth journey that we get via the pamphlet that Woo Yeon picks up, which is a callback to the interview that he’d done. The fact that he has clarity about his increasing ability to love himself, and is able to articulate that it has a lot to do with Woo Yeon, is touching, and I like that this moves Woo Yeon to tears.

More than that, I like the fact that when Soo sees her crying, his first instinct is to ask if he’d made her cry. Aw. That’s a big statement of a change in perspective, for sure. He’s no longer self-focused like before, and even tells her that she can curse him all she wants, and if she has something to say, he will listen. That’s considerate and caring, and I can see why Woo Yeon then tells him that she still loves him.

I appreciate that we get to see Soo and Woo Yeon being intentional in learning more about each other, as a couple. Besides cozy-snuggly scenes, we see them methodically go through a 100 Questions For Couples book together, giggling and laughing as they realize things about each other as well as themselves. Even though I’m not hugely invested in their relationship, it’s good to see some healthy couple dynamics on display, and it’s also nice to see them both happy.

Unsurprisingly, I was most invested in the arc between Hyun Jae and Young Hee, this finale. I just really really wanted Hyun Jae to have his happy ending with Young Hee, and Show obliges, PHEW.

Even though I wish Hyun Jae didn’t have to suffer so much, I am moved by the idea that his love for Young Hee never wavers, throughout the time that they’re apart. He’s just so steadfast and selfless, in the way that he loves her. He’s even willing to not have her know that he’s the one giving her stuff, if Woo Yeon would have agreed to pass the vitamins along. And he’s willing to be around her, and look upon her fondly and admiringly, even though she’s resolutely keeping him at arm’s length.

I’m not surprised that his patience, sincerity and pure, unwavering love eventually wears down Young Hee’s defenses. The way he sinks into that embrace, with such gladness and relief, just really gets me in the heart. Augh. I’m just happy that he’s reunited with his one true love, and finally happy again.

As for Jin Joo and Sang Hyeok, they bring the usual comic relief to the episode, alternating between tearful bickering and bushy-tailed aegyo. These two are ridiculous but they are quite cute, and I’m glad that they’re happy.

Additionally, as a bonus, Soo’s parents decide to date again, because Mom gains courage from seeing Soo’s reconciliation with Woo Yeon. There’s a nice reciprocity in there, with Mom first giving Woo Yeon courage to reconcile with Soo, then gaining courage from that very reconciliation, to date Soo’s dad again. That’s a nice touch, I thought.

In the end, this show turned out to be a lot more muted, and much more of a slow burn than I would have liked, but there are enough silver linings in this watch, to make me feel like this wasn’t a total washout. I find that I’ve grown at least mildly fond of several of our characters, and even though I don’t exactly feel sorry to say goodbye, I am satisfied to leave them happier and more grounded, than when I found them.

THE FINAL VERDICT:

A very muted, very slow burn that does have some pleasant bright spots.

FINAL GRADE: B

TEASER:

MV:

PATREON UPDATE!

The next drama I’ll be covering on Patreon, in place of More Than Friends, is Run On. I got curious because of all the positive buzz around this one. Now that I’ve taken an initial peek, I’m cautiously optimistic. 😄

If you’d like to join me on the journey, you can find my Patreon page here. You can also read more about all the whats, whys, and hows of helping this blog here. Thanks for all of your support, it really means a lot to me. ❤️

9 thoughts on “Review: More Than Friends

  1. markvillon

    Well, not all production of JTBC is for everyone. If your tastes gears towards the like of mainstream and bandwagon shows, More Than Friends is definitely not for you. This is the same what they are saying with “When The Weather Is Fine”, the show is blah, whatever. I find an appreciation with this series as its thought provoking and you can sympathize with the characters. It’s true though that there are moments when it’s frustrating as hell but you get to appreciate it afterwards. This drama are for people with taste in arts, but if your purpose is just to be entertained because you’re bored in quarantine and check out handsome male leads that makes you blush, then it’s definitely not for you. For me, JTBC is the best, it’s like the HBO of Asia where they produce artistic and thought provoking drama.

    Reply
  2. DRDD

    Reviewer-nim, I love you and your reviews however this show was Something In The Rain levels of frustration and toxicity for me lol!

    I appreciate your detailed review though, it gives me perspective of the show, and it’s why I love your blog 🙂

    I will say that the photography and calligraphy really kept me watching. I loved that aspect of it, and the tour of Seoul. I would not dissuade anyone from watching the show, because the artistic bent made it a pleasure.

    Now the OTP on the other hand? EXHAUSTING AND TOXIC.

    The female lead was overbearing with her ‘You rejected me twice so I can’t be your friend’. The drunk dialing was so cringe. The male lead was annoying with his ‘I didn’t know what I had for 10 years, it’s been ten days I LOVE YOU!’ His joking about his good looks was so cringe, cause he’s just okay looking (to me).

    Like you, it was the secondary leads that rounded everything out for me. I love when shows make me cry in a good way about relationships, and I loved the female friendships, and the parent to children ones. Pretty much for me, these secondary relationships, and the artistry carried the show.

    Thanks for reviewing!

    Reply
  3. sapphired17

    Thanks for your review. I really wanted to check this drama out mainly due to Ong Seong Woo’s outstanding performance in At Eighteen, but I was disappointed for how frustrating this show turned out to be. I stopped at ep 10 because I hated all main leads lol but reading your review makes me eager to rewatch it again!

    Reply
  4. Kay

    I had been very undecided on this one, but your detailed review helps me to know this does not sound like a drama for me. Too many red flags for my particular tastes, hehe. I’m glad you were able to enjoy it with the right lens though especially since it does seem like it has some bright spots. Thanks for the review! 🙂

    Reply
  5. Mari

    Hi Kfangirl,
    Thanks for the detailed review I dropped this one at episode 8 or 9, just found the show too frustrating and cliche. I so wanted the FL to get over the self centred ML and find her happily ever after with the second lead for once, but I could foresee that not happening🙂. Now having read your opinion ( which by the way I always trust blindly) I’m glad I didn’t waste anymore of my time on it.

    Reply
  6. Erin Middleton

    The most frustrating show! I only stayed with it cuz I’m a huge fan of Kim Dong Jun. Couldn’t stand the arrogance of ML and his insistence that he was God’s gift… ugh. and that girl! she never should have given him a chance after all those years, and all that condescending attitude towards her!! grrr. hurt people hurt people. but that doesn’t mean you should date them.
    And what, he’s traveling the world for 18 months or whatever, but can’t fly back to see her? ever? not once? and she couldn’t rendezvous with him once or twice? wth?? a very stupid plot point imo that made their breakup lame.
    only good part about storyline (besides how generous Dong Jun’s character was) was that FL puts herself first, finally and builds a career she is proud of. what a waste of my time.

    Reply
  7. carulhein

    Hi Kfangurl, I must say that this was probably one of the most frustrating shows I’ve ever watched. I actually loved the first few episodes and started to love all the characters, but then everything turned into such a frustration fest with the too and fro, and the girls just over complicating and over thinking every single thing. Soo being all tsundere, initially endearingly and then later on not so much.

    Anyway, the final episode was quite enjoyable, but along the way I probably wanted to throttle at least 99% of the cast. My favourite person in the show was Hyun Jae. But I even got frustrated with him being soo super patient with Young Hee. They were so cute together before things turned so complicated.

    One thing I really loved, was the Ost. Especially Falling Slow. Together with Do you like Brahms, I loved the Ost most of all the shows I’ve watched this year.

    Thanx for review ♥️

    Reply
  8. carulhein

    Hi Kfangurl, I must say that this was probably one of the most frustrating shows I’ve ever watched. I actually loved the first few episodes and started to love all the characters, but then everything turned into such a frustration fest with the too and fro, and the girls just over complicating and over thinking every single thing. Soo being all tsundere, initially endearingly and then later on not so much.

    Anyway, the final episode was quite enjoyable, but along the way I probably wanted to throttle at least 99% of the cast. My favourite person in the show was Hyun Jae. But I even got frustrated with him being soo super patient with Young Hee. They were so cute together before things turned so complicated.

    One thing I really loved, was the Ost. Especially Falling Slow. Together with Do you like Brahms, I loved the Ost most of all the shows I’ve watched in 2020.

    Thanx for review ♥️

    Reply

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